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Friday, Oct 07, 2022

Newsmaker | Pilot loyalist & Kirodi Lal Meena’s rival, the Rajasthan Cabinet minister under fire from his MoS

Some sarpanches are calling for Panchayat minister Ramesh Meena’s ouster. They have found an ally in Rajendra Singh Gudha.

Ramesh Meena (File Photo)

Ramesh Meena has had a roller-coaster of a ride in politics over the past 14 years. He entered the Rajasthan Assembly for the first time in 2008 after being elected on a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ticket, but soon afterwards he and five other BSP MLAs left to join the Congress and extended support to the Ashok Gehlot-led government. A Sachin Pilot loyalist, Meena became a Cabinet minister in 2018 but was stripped of the position less than two years later after he joined the Congress heavyweight’s rebellion against Gehlot.

The 59-year-old MLA from Sapotra in Karauli district managed to make his way back to power and is now the Minister of Panchayati Raj and Rural Development. Over the past few weeks, he has been dealing with another crisis. A large number of sarpanches from across the state have accused the minister of calling them corrupt and there were protests in parts of the state demanding his ouster. And siding with the protesters is Rajendra Singh Gudha, the junior minister in his own department.

Gudha likely holds a grudge against Meena as he was the BSP BSP Legislature Party leader when the Cabinet minister won his first election and has now been superseded. Last Thursday, a section of sarpanches protesting against Meena for allegedly casting aspersions on them met Gudha, who immediately jumped on the opportunity to come out against the Cabinet minister. He told the village heads that he would try to convey their grievances to the Chief Minister’s Office.

Meena has stuck to his guns, claiming that he did not call sarpanches corrupt. The three-time MLA has said that he spoke of irregularities that came to his notice while taking stock of work done by sarpanches in districts such as Nagaur and Barmer. The minister has said that he will resign if his allegations of irregularities are found to be false after an inquiry. But not all sarpanches have turned against him. Many from the district of Karauli, where his constituency is located, have backed him.

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Defection and rebellion

The 59-year-old minister has an engineering degree. After he switched to the Congress with his BSP colleagues in 2008, Gehlot appointed him parliamentary secretary.

He retained Sapotra in 2013 and his position in the party improved the following year after Sachin Pilot took charge of the state unit. “After Pilot took charge as the state Congress president in 2014, Meena became close to him and started to be counted as one of his staunch loyalists,” said an MLA who closely worked with Meena in the past.

In the 2018 Assembly polls, Meena defeated former minister Golma Devi of the BJP who is the wife of BJP Rajya Sabha MP Kirodi Lal Meena. The Congress leader and Kirodi Lal share an antagonistic relationship as Meena wants to take the MP’s place as the leader of the tribal Meena community. The minister has often called the BJP leader a “criminal” while Kirodi Lal has labelled Meena a member of the “land mafia”.

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Meena became the Food and Civil Supplies minister after the 2018 Assembly polls as Gehlot left some ministerial berths for Pilot loyalists. But, in 2020, he was out of the government after he went to Delhi along with 17 other MLAs to back Pilot’s claim to the CM’s chair. The rebel MLAs camped in Delhi and BJP-ruled Haryana for over a month. At the time, Meena made a scathing attack on Gehlot in response to the CM’s allegation of horse-trading. The Sapotra MLA asked Gehlot how much money he had paid in 2008 to ensure the BSP MLAs joined the Congress.

Though the Congress high command brokered a truce between the warring factions, Meena had to wait for more than a year to reclaim the ministership he lost because of the rebellion. Last November, Gehlot brought him back to the Cabinet and handed him his current portfolio, a department Pilot had led when he was the deputy chief minister.

First published on: 07-08-2022 at 06:12:30 pm
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